Remember the fun we had here in Florida with legal sports betting?
It was great fun chewing fingernails to the nub, wondering if the Buccaneers and Dolphins would cover. Would the Jaguars score?
It added so much spice to our regular sports watching. Suddenly, Tom Brady wasn’t just throwing touchdowns — he was making it rain, baby!
Placing bets was easy, too. All you needed was a cell phone and a user-friendly app.
Yeah, that sports wagering compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida sure was a boon.
Until it wasn’t.
The Tribe shut down the Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile app after an appeals court denied its request for an emergency stay of a federal court ruling that sports betting isn’t legal in Florida.
Well, sigh, it’s not.
More than 71% of voters approved Amendment 3 in 2018, which gives voters the right to approve any expansion of casino gambling not located on tribal lands. The Tribe argued the servers processing wagers were on its land and thus didn’t represent an unauthorized expansion.
So far, the courts haven’t agreed.
The app was only active for a short while. It didn’t unleash swarms of locusts and fiery hailstones didn’t fall from the sky. The Florida we love is still here. It remains a soothing, warm place to live while rich people fight rich people over this issue.
It should only take a decade or two to resolve.
Meanwhile, sports wagering still occurs — clandestinely, of course. The money will go out of state.
Authorities can channel their inner Captain Louis Renault from Casablanca when that happens. They’ll be shocked, SHOCKED, to find that gambling was going on here.
Now, on that cheery note, it’s time for our weekly game of winners and losers.
Honorable mention — Rick Scott: He received vindication for his hard-line stance on China when the U.S. announced Monday it would not send officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
He has been a frequent critic of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party. In a news release, Scott noted he has “been requesting a meeting with President Biden to discuss the horrific human rights atrocities occurring across Communist China.”
The diplomatic boycott is a slap with a velvet glove, of course, that had the impact of a BB against a battleship.
“President Biden had the chance to actually stand up to Beijing’s genocide and human rights abuses, but again, he has chosen appeasement and weakness over strength and resolve,” Scott said. “Time and time again, Biden does the bare minimum when it comes to dealing with China, and it’s absolutely unacceptable.”
Scott previously called on the International Olympic Committee to find a new spot for the Games, scheduled to begin in February.
That won’t happen, obviously, but the Senator is correct in demanding to know what security measures are in place to protect U.S. athletes competing.
Almost (but not quite) biggest winner — Vern Buchanan: The Longboat Key Republican Congressman could have a high-profile position in 2022 if the GOP regains control of the U.S. House.
Buchanan could ascend to the chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He has made no secret of his desire to do that, and his odds improved significantly when U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes announced he would run former President Donald Trump’s new media company instead of seeking re-election.
That left Buchanan as the senior Republican on the committee.
“As I indicated earlier this year, I will be running for the Ways and Means chairmanship,” Buchanan said. “But my first priority is to help Republicans win back the U.S. House majority in 2022.”
The biggest winner — Florida coastlines: Gov. Ron DeSantis submitted a proposal to spend about $270 million on 76 projects throughout the state to help those communities’ flooding problems.
The work would address drainage issues, raise sea walls, and other moves to decrease the risk of flooding.
“We’re a low-lying state, we’re a storm-prone state, and we’re a flood-prone state,” DeSantis said. “And so we worked with the Legislature to say, ‘OK, how are we going to address this in a way that’s going to protect Florida’s communities, protect our economic livelihood and make sure we’re doing what we need to do?'”
Oh, but he couldn’t resist taking a jab at the libs. He said the proposal wouldn’t include “left-wing things.”
And he wouldn’t use the terms “climate change” or “sea level rise.” Those, you know, are lefty terms that, translated, mean this stuff is real, and we have to take it seriously. Many Republicans don’t share that view.
This move shows DeSantis does take it seriously(ish). But we don’t care what he does or doesn’t call it. Doing something to help communities fight the effects of you-know-what is the most important thing.
Dishonorable mention — Vanessa Baugh: Remember the flap last February when two affluent ZIP codes in Manatee County were first in line to receive COVID-19 vaccines? It put DeSantis on the defensive, and it landed Baugh, the Manatee County Commission Chair, in the crosshairs of the Florida Ethics Commission.
That Commission found probable cause that Baugh abused her position when she put her name atop a vaccination list.
Baugh helped organize the pop-up site and requested a VIP list for certain residents to receive vaccines, including herself.
“In addition, probable cause was found to believe Ms. Baugh misused her position or public resources to assign vaccine distribution priority to serve specific individuals and zip codes, contrary to Manatee County’s COVID-19 vaccination policy,” the Commission said in a news release.
Baugh’s attorney, George Levesque, said the decision doesn’t mean she is guilty.
“It was by no means a unanimous decision, which speaks to the real concerns as to whether any law was violated and the complex nature of these types of cases,” he said.
Almost (but not quite) biggest loser — Nikki Fried: Speaking of probable cause, the Ethics Commission also said Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner may have violated state law when she failed to initially disclose $400,000 in lobbying income when she ran for office.
Evan Power, chair of the Leon County Republican Party, filed an ethics complaint against Fried in June. She had amended her 2018 financial disclosures to show she earned $351,480 from Igniting Florida and her 2017 disclosures to show she made $165,671 in consulting fees.
She originally claimed to have made $84,000.
The Commission concluded, “Probable cause was found on allegations she violated Florida’s Constitution and financial disclosure law by failing to accurately disclose income on her 2017 and 2018 Form 6 disclosure filings.”
A spokesperson for Fried, who is running for Governor, blasted the ruling.
“A disgraced Republican Party official filed a false and fraudulent ethics complaint against Commissioner Fried,” Drew Godinich said.
Godinich noted the discrepancies came to light because Fried first amended her financial disclosures.
But it was still a blow to Fried, who faces challenges from Charlie Crist and Annette Taddeo for the Democratic nomination. Crist leads those two in campaign cash after raising $607,000 in November, putting his haul at more than $5 million.
Fried’s latest report showed her with $3.6 million on hand.
DeSantis has — gulp — $58.3 million.
The biggest loser — University of Florida: Students and alums love to chant that it’s great to be a Florida Gator. However, given recent events, maybe use the word “grates” instead of “great.”
This goes a lot deeper than a mediocre football team. UF’s proud academic history is under intense scrutiny due to revelations that academic freedom is under siege by Tallahassee lawmakers.
That list includes DeSantis.
The Tampa Bay Times detailed a damning faculty report saying UF researchers, working with an unidentified state agency on COVID-19, faced “external pressure to destroy” virus-related data.
Higher-ups ordered them, the report said, “not to criticize the Governor of Florida or UF policies related to COVID-19 in media interactions.”
“More problematic than the individual examples of pressure to stifle unpopular viewpoints or restrict research was the palpable reticence and even fear on the part of faculty to speak up on these issues,” the report states.
“There was grave concern about retaliation and a sense that anyone who objected to the state of affairs might lose his or her job or be punished in some way.”
The report came after UF barred three political science professors from testifying in a lawsuit about new restrictions to Florida’s voting laws.
UF relented after withering national criticism, but it was too late to put the cork back in the bottle. Did the university value appeasement to GOP lawmakers over freedom for faculty to present ideas in conflict with Tallahassee dogma?
This is the most serious challenge the state’s flagship university has faced in decades. UF’s sterling reputation for academic excellence has taken a severe hit. That gives rise to speculation that its research work is now merely a propaganda tool for a politically ambitious Governor.
That could impact the university’s ability to attract top talent in the future. Academic freedom, in this case, means letting the facts about a deadly virus dictate the response. If the facts don’t fit the state’s narrative, well, too damn bad.